Kelsey Ann Barrett’s first published story hit me like a javelin to the sternum; so I just had to ask her to do an interview for Worlds of Weird. And can you believe it? She said yes! If you haven’t read Barrett’s My Teacher, My Enemy get your butt over to Lightspeed Magazine and check it out; it’s free people! You can also listen to it on audio. Then come on back here and read the interview for some interesting insight into this promising new author.
Dr. Monstrosity: Your story My Teacher, My Enemy is pretty horrific and violent. It’s probably off-putting to many people. Are you concerned about how your family and friends would view you after reading such a tale? Are you worried they might think you’re nuts or have some kind of violent streak?
Kelsey Ann Barrett: Being an author is a lot like being an actor; I think audiences can have trouble separating the real person from their characters. I dabbled in acting in high-school and college, and the last thing I wanted to do was play a character similar to myself! All art is about exploring humanity in one way or another – for me, living in a culture where so much entertainment is saturated with completely meaningless violence, the goal of “My Teacher, My Enemy” was to write a piece that could surprise and shock an audience that is so used to graphic depictions of it, and yet still treat that violence with the gravity it deserved. I took some of my experiences with viewing violence in my own world, but ultimately expanded that to a much greater effect. I don’t think that people are going to assume I have that kind of violent streak in me, but I don’t have a problem if I shocked some with my desire to tackle such themes, especially since I am a woman. I’m happy that “My Teacher, My Enemy,” is the professional market’s introduction to my work. I think trying to write what you think other people would like or expect from you is a good way to get into trouble, creatively. You want to be original, and surprising in what you do, and hopefully, if you do your job, people will understand it.
Dr. M: The most striking and intense part of My Teacher, My Enemy for me was when the protagonist confesses her revulsion for living a life away from the hunt and being a farmer or ‘family man’ like her father; she views her father as beneath her. Wow. It must have been draining to write such a ferocious and passionate character.
KAB: Actually, it was liberating! I have a lot of ferocity in me that I sometimes keep too bottled up. I’m definitely not a violent person, but exploring the character’s violence was empowering in its own way. Women aren’t expected to be disdainful, or view others as beneath their own powers and expertise, especially not father figures. But I created a world in which I could explore female characters who do have those traits, and in whom they are not even considered unusual. I can guarantee that I will be writing more female characters with this level of passion in the future.
Dr. M: This is your first published story. Did you make it through the slush pile or did you have a connection to get the story read? How many stories have you submitted prior to this one?
KAB: I first sent this story to Lightspeed’s editor, John Joseph Adams, when he was taking submissions for an anthology. It wasn’t quite what he was looking for there, but he liked it enough to ask for it for Lightspeed instead. It was definitely a case of right story, right place; I got very lucky. I’ve only had two other submissions, and they were both non-genre, but I’ve got a stack of stuff waiting to go out as soon as I can get up the courage to say “yes, they’re finished” and actually send them places. Hopefully this one will give me the confidence–ie. the kick in the pants–I need!
Dr. M: Who are some authors that you feel were most influential on this particular work and on your desire to write in general?
KAB: Like any writer, I have my idols amongst great authors, but in many ways I take most of my inspiration from the things I don’t like, or don’t find, in books, television, and movies. When I walk away from something wishing I had seen a different character or a stronger story arc, I take that idea and run with it.
A lot of my story ideas fall into one of two types of origins; they’re either conceptual, like “My Teacher, My Enemy,” where I have a theme I want to explore and try to find the right story to carry it, or as images that just pop into my head, either from something I’ve read, or seen, or heard, and in that respect, I get a lot of my inspiration from other writers than authors, especially from musicians and songwriters; Rufus Wainwright, David Bowie, and Florence + The Machine rarely fail to get me into a creative place.
Dr. M: What are some of your short term writing goals? Are you planning a novel?
KAB: I really need to start a novel. I’ve got a ton of notes for several different ideas, so it’s really a matter of choosing one to focus on and committing to it. In the meantime, I’d like to try to get a few more short stories published, so that I really have a body of work attached to my name by the time that novel is ready. I just participated in the Clarion write-a-thon, so I generated a lot of new material in the past 6 weeks. Looks like there is a lot of editing in my future!
Golly I hope she gets to work and starts submitting her other stories; I want to see what else she’s got up her sleeve. Anyone who can hit the old doctor upside the head like she did with My Teacher, My Enemy deserves another look.